June 26, 2006–While the United States health care IT bill has hit a snag in the House, Canada is forging ahead with an ambitious plan to equip health care facilities with information technology.

H.R. 4157, introduced last October by Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn) and Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga), seemed to be on the fast track to approval when it passed through the House Ways and Means Committee on a 23-17 vote, after also passing muster in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

But the bill has stalled after the Congressional Budget Office sent a letter to Rep Charles Rangel (D-NY) citing sections of the bill that would increase direct spending and reduce revenues. The CBO noted in particular the provision calling for certain safe harbors “for donations of health information technology that might otherwise be subject to civil monetary penalties, criminal penalties or sanctions for violating the prohibitions on certain physician referrals.”

Another provision would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services to override state privacy laws and issue a national privacy rule to protect online health information.

Meanwhile, Canada, with its single payor health care system, is forging ahead with the government-supported IT projects that are making United States lawmakers balk. The Ontario Ministry of Health has been subsidizing radiology clinics’ investment in digital and PACS initiatives since January, with the result that Canadian PACS vendor Intelerad Medical Systems (Montreal), has seen significant sales increases: the company has added 35 clients in Ontario alone this year to its original 300 customers worldwide.

Last December, Ontarian Health and Long-Term Care Minister George Smitherman announced the government’s planned $83.5 million investment in diagnostic and medical equipment. $6.3 million was earmarked for telemedicine and teleradiology equipment in hospitals, along with $6.9 million to replace old CT scanners with new, more efficient technology.

“We are very pleased that the provincial government recognizes that 50% of medical imaging in Ontario is performed outside of the hospital environment—in clinics that provide radiology services,” said Rob Elich, director of sales at Intelerad.